Local government supports concerted effort to halt the spread of wilding conifers

25 February 2016

Local government supports concerted effort to halt the spread of wilding conifers Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) has lent its support to a national strategy to address the rapidly escalating threat of wilding conifers to both the environment and economy.
The organisation is standing behind the concerted national approach underway between local and central government and other stakeholders to tackle the relentless spread of the invasive trees. Wilding conifers are forecast to cost New Zealand billions in economic losses over the coming decades, impacting on industries from agriculture to tourism. 
Chair of LGNZ’s Regional Sector, Stephen Woodhead, said the wilding conifer issue is now so severe New Zealand cannot not afford any further delay in its concerted effort to tackle the pest.
“We have reached a tipping point for wilding conifer control,” says Mr Woodhead.
“Wilding conifers are trees in places they are not supposed to be. They have been branded the number one pest in some regions.”
Wilding conifers currently occupy around 1.8 million hectares, nearly six per cent of New Zealand’s land area. While the problem is at its worst in the South, particularly Otago, Marlborough, Canterbury, Queenstown and Southland they are also spreading through certain areas of the North Island, such as the central plateau.
The potential economic impact is huge and estimated at $1.2 billion over 20 years with the figure increasing exponentially after that.

“If we don’t mount a coordinated control effort now, there will be devastating long-term impacts for New Zealand’s environment and economy,” says Mr Woodhead.

Despite active management and investment by landowners, regional councils, community organisations and other agencies, including a spend of $6.7 million by central and local government last year alone, wilding conifers are still spreading at a rate of 90,000 hectares per year. It is estimated that, without implementation of a national strategy, they will invade 20 per cent of New Zealand’s land area by 2035 and 40 per cent within 50-100 years.
The windblown seeds from wilding conifer species which include pinus contorta and Douglas fir grow almost anywhere, taking root in vast numbers all over the country including high country farmland, crown estate and iconic landscapes highly valued by New Zealanders and tourists.
Wilding conifers suck up groundwater exacerbating drought and fire risks. Their fallen needles form dense carpets taking a heavy toll on native flora and fauna and can affect freshwater habitats. In some places, the landscapes we treasure will be forever changed – replaced by a monoculture of wilding trees.
Local government wants to raise the profile of the wilding conifer threat amongst all New Zealanders. Mr Woodhead said that, without immediate action, the problem will become so severe it could be uneconomic to deal with.
“If we start controlling wilding conifers now, the cost over a 15-year period will be an estimated $160-$180 million. This would reduce infestation to a level that they could be maintained from business as usual budgets. Any delay will increase the cost of control exponentially by $30-$50 million per year.
“Wilding conifers are in almost every area of New Zealand and the trees are spreading rapidly across the country threatening farmland, tussock landscapes, water availability, biodiversity and iconic tourist locations.

“Like many weed pests, the public may not have been aware of the threat in the early stages of infestation – but it’s very important now that we raise awareness of the urgency of this situation and the importance of prioritising funds to ensure a coordinated national approach to address it.”
For more information please contact LGNZ’s Director of Advocacy, Helen Mexted, on 029 924 1221 or email helen.mexted@lgnz.co.nz